Spelius went searching for the perfect river,
and he's pretty sure he found it a thousand miles
south of Santiago, Chile.
years after the 1984 Olympic Games, the American
kayaker got a call from the Olympic Committee
to help develop kayaking in the South American
thousand miles south of Santiago, he found rivers
fed by glaciers and 20 feet of annual rain pouring
into Andean fjords. After seeing the rapids of
a river named Futaleuf? never left.
the past two decades Spelius has made his living
river-running there, and he's not alone. As Chile
seeks new revenue sources, it has begun to capitalize
on the appeal of wilderness.
looking for special experiences are a very important
economic sector. We are searching for these tourists,"
said Gonzalo Salamanca of Fundaci??hile, a state
organization promoting global competitiveness.
and private entities view ecotourism as a sustainable
alternative to industries such as forestry and
fisheries, Salamanca says.
in an era of global tension, Chile's remoteness
attracts growing numbers of visitors, and its
expanses of untouched wilderness are increasingly
rare in industrialized countries.
such as Spelius are trying to ensure these places
continue to exist in Chile, but they have competition.
forestry industry, looking to double Chile's production
by 2010, eyes these lands for hardwoods. The lucrative
hydroelectric potential of Andean rivers has not
escaped the notice of transnational energy corporations.
a further twist of globalization, Douglas Tompkins,
American founder of the outdoor equipment company
North Face and co-founder of Esprit clothing,
bought a pristine swath of southern Chile larger
than Rhode Island to preserve it from development.
His radical investment caused a firestorm of controversy
over who is to control natural resources.
Spelius and visitors to Futaleuf?e draw is the
glacial water filtered by a series of lakes in
shades of turquoise. It flows from small quiet
eddies to technical Class 5 rapids that can toss
and bend 14-foot rafts like plastic toys.
conifers and a patchwork of pasture shelter the
river while distant rolling hills merge into jagged
mountains topped by white snowfields and pale
than half the town works in summer tourism from
January through mid-March, said Arturo Carvallo,
mayor of Futaleuf?pulation 1,800. They work as
rafting, fishing, and hiking guides or in hotels
the wet, nine-month winters and the town's isolation
prove a formidable obstacle to expanding tourism.
recently accessible by road without crossing into
Argentina, and the bumpy 96-mile bus trip from
the nearest airport takes longer than four hours.
Buses run only sporadically in winter. Carvallo
is seeking government subsidies to make the town
accessible year round.
wouldn't be a problem for international corporations
wishing to harness the river's energy.
During the 1980s privatization efforts by dictator
Augusto Pinochet's military regime, the state
energy company was auctioned off. The purchaser,
Spanish energy giant Endesa, also acquired rights
for hydroelectric development.
the company owns about 85 percent of the total
water rights granted by Chile, including the entire
flow of the Futaleuf? One proposal is for a hydroelectric
dam that would inundate the town of Futaleuf?
the surrounding valley to produce cheaper electricity.
Gonzalez, executive director of FutaFriends, an
organization dedicated to preventing the industrialization
of the river, sees little economic justification
at the moment. But with electricity demand increasing
7 percent a year and a new agreement allowing
Chile and Argentina to exchange energy freely,
this could change.
of when construction could begin vary from five
to 10 years.
issue is not just about this incredible place
being dammed," Gonzalez said. "Doing so would
set a dangerous model that would hurt the region
as a whole."
the free market provides opportunities in surprising
places. Just as a Spanish company may utilize
privatized water rights for hydroelectric development,
Douglas Tompkins seeks to privatize to prevent
visited the country for the first time in 1961
and fell in love with the Chilean wilderness.
Cashing in his interest in the clothing business,
he gave up his career in San Francisco and settled
on an abandoned ranch in the coastal south.
then he has spent more than $50 million to buy
nearly 750,000 acres to make sure it remains wild.
The seventh largest of Chile's protected areas,
Parque Pumal?is managed by Tompkins' foundation,
the Conservation Land Trust.
for the resident pumas, the park contains a combination
of temperate rain forests and fjords overlooked
by the 7,887-foot volcano, Michinmahuida. The
park is home to the deerlike pudu, sea lions and
some of the last oceanside old growth forests
people desire to be out in nature although they
cannot articulate why," said Tompkins. "There
is still a need inside of us to see not every
square meter of Earth has been humanized."
hopes to ensure that this wilderness lasts forever,
but his work isn't without controversy. He has
been accused of violating national sovereignty
with a reserve that stretches almost from the
Pacific Ocean on the west to Argentina on the
a foreigner came into the United States and bought
a piece of land that stretched from California
to Philadelphia, what would Americans say?" asks
Francisco Perez of INFOR, a Chilean forestry research
Eduardo Corea, vice president of CORMA, a forestry
trade group, concurs. "Tompkins earned his money
as businessman. Now he comes to a poor country
and is preventing the use of natural resources
important for our development."
and a growing number of private conservationists
are simply using the same provisions of Chilean
laws that encourage foreign ownership of property
to attract investment.
praise his efforts.
are very thankful that Tompkins has protected
this wonderful area. We wish there were more people
like him," says park visitor Juan Ravilet Mariano.
botanist Adrianna Hoffman, who wrote a book on
the flora of southern Chile, agreed.
was appointed director of CONAMA, the Chilean
environmental protection agency by Chilean President
Ricardo Lagos. Hoffman was the first environmentalist
to head CONAMA, but she said the organization
had little power to influence government policy
and left after six months.
now heads the private foundation Defenders of
private investment is the only way to conserve
areas that the government does not have the means
to protect," she said.
logging industry, though, is eying Pumal?s forests.
It is home to Chile's largest remaining stand
of 4,500 year-old alerces, a native cypress. With
trunks up to 12 feet in diameter, alerces are
prized for wood resistant to insects and weather.
law forbids substituting old growth forests for
tree plantations. Nevertheless, the industry envisions
a renewed emphasis on the sustainable harvest
of native forests in southern Chile, which includes
Douglas Tompkins's eco-reserve. Perez believes
that more than 14 million tons of native forest,
equivalent to the size of 7,000 full-sized redwoods,
can be harvested annually without jeopardizing
is no doubt we can use native forest. We are in
the process of evaluating its precise condition
to make use profitable," Perez says.
protected by the government, alerce wood still
has value on the black market. Most foresters
admit clandestine logging and trafficking happen,
but their interest is with more profitable exotic
species, such as eucalyptus or Monterey pine,
which grow where native forests once stood.
types of eucalyptus, native to Australia and valued
for firm pulp and rapid growth, flourish in reforested
areas of Chile.
main assets are the forests," says Charles Kimber,
the Chilean executive director of Arauco, the
third largest forestry-products company in the
world. Arauco controls 709 thousand acres of eucalyptus
and Monterey pine plantations.
carefully managing every step of a sapling's life,
plantations cultivate harvestable, defect-free
trees in 15 years. Many of the eucalyptus are
turned into wood chips, which are processed into
paper and cardboard. Monterey pines become paneling,
plywood, particleboard and pulp for shipment all
around the world.
tariffs have long been reduced for Chilean forestry
products coming to the United States, the new
free trade agreement will change little.